Dealing with so many

The treatment of prisoners is one of the unforeseen problems

The motive is clear: to punish every single one of the perpetrators of the May 9 attacks on military installations. No one can argue with that. Punishment must be condign. That means a large number of people being taken into custody. A large number of those arrested are women, they forming an important part of the support base of the PTI supporters who are being accused of having gone wild on May 9. PTI chief Imran Khan has accused the government of having committed atrocities upon the women in custody, which was the reason why Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had accused his party of hatching a plot complete with faked rapes. Mr Khan’s accusation may be dismissed as the product of an imagination almost as over-active as Rana Sanaullah’s, but that should not conceal the reality that the prison system is a cause for concern.

Even if one was to guarantee safety against abuse, there remain the very real dangers caused by overcrowding and plain old-fashioned filth (which is an especial concern now, with summer having set in). Those arrested may include enemies of the state, but all at the moment are merely under trial, with no one having yet been convicted. And even if and when that happens, it will not mean that the convicts are no longer human beings. While this applies with especial force to the women who have been arrested, men too deserve to be treated as human beings. It is bad enough to have lost one’s freedom, and to have to suffer from overcrowding, dirt and the heat is bad enough if one is guilty, but positively intolerable if one is conscious of injured innocence.

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Jail conditions are bad enough, but a general improvement can be discussed later. There is something woefully wrong with a system that makes treatment as human beings, with normal human needs, a kind of special treatment, but it is upto the jail authorities to provide it for the flood of prisoners that is upon them. There is also the danger of these accused falling between the cracks of the civilian and military prison systems. Though none of the accused will be arrested or booked initially by the military police, many will be handed over the military authorities for trial. Custody after that hand-over could become an issue, with the military authorities saying they lacked the space to hold them, and the jail authorities saying they had handed the prisoners over.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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